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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Teachers Learn Importance Of Technical Writing

The teachers at University High School were the students on Tuesday.

They sat at desks facing their instructors-for-a-day - a sprinkling of business people from Spokane. Their lesson was on writing. Specifically, writing in the workplace.

The teachers listened carefully; they were looking for ideas to take to their own students.

Environmental engineer Rod Pharness told his group about his early days writing reports for Washington Water Power.

“I had a manager who was very good at taking my technical reports and reworking them. There was so much red ink on my reports, you couldn’t believe it,” Pharness said.

Most of that red ink was aimed at jargon. His manager wanted those reports to be clear and easily read by people who didn’t share Pharness’ biology background.

These sessions were part of a larger effort by Central Valley School District to include technical writing in students’ lives.

“First and foremost, this addresses essential learning requirement No. 1: the whole communication piece,” said U-Hi Principal Erik Ohlund. “We have clear evidence that we could assist our students in learning to communicate in a very direct, clear, concise manner, and it would serve them in so many ways.”

By the end of the year, Central Valley educators plan to have developed a series of standards for grading technical writing.

The guest speakers at U-Hi this week brought examples of brochures, reports, bid proposals, and lists of common grammar errors they find their employees using. They also brought ideas about how to build writing lessons around real-world exercises.

“I don’t know what kind of scientific journals you get here, but you could have your (biology) students rewrite an article, say, on the latest in managing trout on the Pend Oreille River,” Pharness suggested. “Then, take their papers down the hall to the drama students to read and see if they understand them.”

Tomlinson real estate agent Ron Criscione suggested that students could write ads for their own homes and see if their prose persuaded other students to make an offer. Or they could write up brief biographies for brochures about themselves, as some real estate agents do.

After a couple of sessions with the guest speakers, the English teachers, the math teachers, and so on, gathered to talk about ideas they had gleaned for lesson plans.

Teacher Sharon Posten tossed out an idea she’d heard from US West’s Joanne Ficca: having students write a proposal.

Posten put her own twist on it, though.

She could allow her freshmen to present her with a formal proposal explaining why they should not have to take their final exam on Romeo and Juliet, for instance. She would demand a certain format, a certain deadline. Kids who followed through with a solid presentation would actually be excused from the final. And for those who didn’t, no dice.

“That’s exactly how they would do it in the business world,” Posten said.

, DataTimes

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